Do Female Business Travelers Have Different Needs? Survey Says: Yes

iStock_000006791794XSmall_1_.jpgBy Andrea Newell (Grand Rapids, MI)

Recently The Economist posted a piece that scoffed at the idea that female travelers had different concerns or needs than male travelers, as suggested in a related article on the Columbus Dispatch. However, the travel industry begs to differ.

Although there have always been women travelers , it is only in the last two decades when data shows that women make up a significant percentage of travelers, particularly business travelers, that hotels and airlines have taken note of this growing demographic. In 2007, The Herman Group reported that 43% of business travelers worldwide were women. Pioneers like American Airlines and Wyndham Hotels have taken not, launching women’s-only programs aimed at female travelers and offer amenities and services aimed specifically at women’s needs.

In the April 2009 article, Hotels Attempt To Attract Women Travelers Through Amenities, in the Marketing to Women newsletter, EPM Communications reports that “nearly all hotel executives say their outreach efforts are gender-neutral, yet they add that women’s preferences are important considerations since women act as the key decision-maker in 70% of travel plans.” MaryBeth Bond, an expert on women’s adventure travel and author of 11 books, reports on her website that there has been a 230% increase in women-only travel companies in the past six years. She cites estimates that women will spend $125 billion on travel in the next year. She and Kathy Ameche, a seasoned business traveler for over 20 years and author of The Woman Road Warrior, both affirm that while traveling, women’s needs are different from men’s.

One thing men and women do have in common: safety is the top concern for almost all travelers (according to a July 2002 article in Security Management). However, where women were concerned with personal security (background checks on hotel personnel and restricted room access), men ranked issues like fire safety as more important. Accordingly, women’s travel tips are nearly all about personal safety, whereas general travel tips for both men and women focus on avoiding things like property theft or escaping hotel fires, with less focus on avoiding personal assaults.

Hotels around the world realize that safety is an important issue, specifically for women, and have responded by offering women’s only floors (more common in hotels in Asia) and instructing hotel staff to give women their room assignment on a folded paper with keys that don’t show their room number to maintain their privacy. Along with deadbolts and door peepholes, better lighting in hallways and parking lots, keycard access to floors and jogging escorts, among other things—safety even affects things like room service menus.

In the East Bay Business Times, Ellis Katz, vice president and director of the hospitality studio at John Portman & Associates (an Atlanta-based architectural firm for the lodging industry) cites a study they performed in 2002. “What we found from the survey was that a good portion of women use room service. Especially if they are traveling by themselves, the majority prefer to eat in their rooms.”

The survey also shows that women prefer healthy food options to greasy or fried food.In addition to safety improvements, hotels list such female-oriented amenities as yoga mats, women’s magazines, fresh flowers, comfortable beds, in-room coffeemakers, full-length mirrors, smaller-portioned menu items, on-site health facilities, female-oriented items in the “I forgot” repertoire, and healthy snacks in the minibar and restaurant.

Although these offerings may be “silliness” to The Economist, the Marketing to Women article points out that “women are responsible for the now-standard amenities featured in most hotels, such as in-room coffee pots, full-length mirrors, and various hanger sizes.” Alyson Johnson, of Wyndham’s Women on Their Way, adds, “It’s not as if men don’t think about these things, but women are more vocal with their feedback. Of course, men appreciate [these amenities] once they are there.”

No matter who brought up these concerns, everyone is benefitting from their implementation. More women travelers are not only taking to the road for business, but leisure—and without their spouses. All-girl getaways centered around hobbies like scrapbooking or quilting, as well as adventure or spa trips, are on the rise and hotels and airlines are offering more packages to meet this need.

In these times, every customer counts and the travel industry is showing good business sense by listening to what has proven to be a large and powerful demographic. To ignore this feedback would be like asking why anyone would want a grande cappuccino with low-fat milk and whipped cream when there has always been plain black coffee available. Some people are very happy with their black coffee, but there are an awful lot of people who really like the cappuccino. Whether the Economist thinks it’s valid or not, responding to women’s needs has proven to be big business for the travel industry.